Male African lion caught on camera trap in Gabon
For the first time since 1996, conservationists have proof of a wild lion roaming within the Central African country of Gabon. A young and healthy-looking male was captured on a camera trap in Batéké Plateau National Park, a large area of grasslands and forests. While this national park is a perfect habitat for lions, the big cats have not been seen in any large numbers in these grasslands since the 1950’s.
Conservationists are not certain if this lion remains from the old population or is transient from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The closest lion population is several hundred kilometers away from Batéké Plateau. Male lions are known to travel far in search of a mate but if this lion is in fact a transient, he would have had to swim the Congo River.
Philipp Henschel, Lion Program Survey Coordinator for cat conservation group Panthera, told Reuters that he couldn’t believe it when he saw the footage showing a male lion in the park. He and his team went out to set up more cameras as soon as possible. The camera traps were initially set-up by The Aspinall Foundation and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology’s Pan African-Program: The Cultured Chimpanzee, to monitor chimpanzees in the park, but videotaped the male lion three times since January. Locals have reported hearing lion roars at night as well.
The return of the lion brings hope for the species
“The return of lions to the Batéké marks a significant step in the work of [the Aspinall Foundation] to do everything humanly possible to encourage endangered species to return to the ancestral homelands which are their rightful place,” said Damian Aspinall, Chairman of The Aspinall Foundation, which has been working in Batéké Plateau National Park for years, focusing on western lowland gorillas.
Lions are vanishing across Africa at an alarming rate. A 2012 study in Biological Conservation found that lion populations had fallen by 68 percent in just 50 years. During this same 50 years, lion habitat vanished by 75 percent. If the lions are returning to Gabon it could be a much needed boost for the species as the country is one of the largest supporters of conservation on the African continent. In 2002, the country set aside 10 percent of its landmass as protected areas, including 13 national parks.
You can watch the footage of the lion in Gabon in the video below.